Home > Is the role of alcohol in accidental deaths under-reported in Ireland?

Lyons, Suzi (2014) Is the role of alcohol in accidental deaths under-reported in Ireland? Drugnet Ireland , Issue 50, Summer 2014 , p. 16.

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Media coverage of alcohol policy and alcohol-related issues generally falls into two categories.  Thematic coverage deals with statistical facts and the effects of alcohol on society and the individual, while episodic reporting is a news story that reports on the person and their circumstances.  It appears that most media coverage of alcohol-related risk is episodic and tends not to address the role of alcohol in the incident.  Accurate reporting of alcohol-related deaths can improve support for public health messages among the general public by raising concern and awareness of the risks related to harmful alcohol use. 

A recent study aimed to investigate whether the role of alcohol in accidental deaths was under-reported in Irish print  media.1 Data from the National Drug-Related Deaths Index for the years 2008 and 2009 were used to identify deaths due to alcohol poisoning and deaths due to trauma (e.g. drownings, falls) in which alcohol was also mentioned on the death certificate.  Deaths due to suicide or to chronic alcohol-related medical conditions were excluded. There were 388 deaths which met the inclusion criteria.  An internet search was then conducted to locate local or national newspaper reports of those deaths. The content of the article was analysed, including any direct or indirect reference to alcohol use, using a hierarchical coding system. Media reports (excluding online funeral notices) were located for only 11% of the deaths.  The authors note the limitation that an internet-based search alone was likely to have missed articles that had not been put on line. 

The study found that deaths due to alcohol poisoning were significantly less likely than traumatic deaths to be reported by the media, even though they represented the majority of deaths identified. When such deaths were reported, the method of death was never stated. While choking was the second most common cause of death in the inclusion group, no newspaper reports of these deaths were found.  Reasons suggested by the authors for the under-reporting of the role of alcohol in poisoning and traumatic deaths included: the need for a post-mortem in some cases, a reluctance by journalists/editorial policy to speculate on the role of alcohol in the death, or a cultural reluctance to speak ill of the dead. 

The authors conclude that the role of alcohol in alcohol-related deaths is under-reported in the Irish media and that an opportunity to inform the public of the consequences of harmful alcohol use is therefore missed.  They recommend that journalists more proactively report on the role of alcohol in deaths, which would enable the public to make more informed decisions in relation to risks round their own drinking, and also in relation to their understanding and support of alcohol harm-reducing strategies, for example the recent Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.2

 

1. Fagan J, Lyons S and Smyth B (2014) Content analysis of newspaper reports on alcohol-related deaths. Alcohol and Alcoholism. Published online 15 April 2014. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agu015.  www.drugsandalcohol.ie/21799

2. Department of Health (2013, 24 October) Minimum unit pricing and regulation of advertising and sponsorship to be provided for in a Public Health Bill. Press release issued by the Department of Health on the announcement of the proposed Bill. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/20793

Item Type:Article
Issue Title:Issue 50, Summer 2014
Date:July 2014
Page Range:p. 16
Publisher:Health Research Board
Volume:Issue 50, Summer 2014
EndNote:View
Accession Number:HRB (Electronic Only)
Subjects:B Substances > Alcohol
G Health and disease > Disorder by cause > Emotional trauma
N Communication, information and education > Message (portrayal of substance use) > Portrayal of substance use in the media
P Demography, epidemiology, and history > Population dynamics > Substance related mortality / death
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland

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